“That’s just the way the world works” Trinity 9 2022

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14. August 2022
Trinity 9
Luke 16:1-13

So the master commended the unjust steward because he had dealt shrewdly. For the sons of this world are more shrewd in their generation than the sons of light.

In Name of the + Jesus. Amen.

“That’s just the way the world works.” This is the parents’ typical response to the frequent questions of children. The child sees injustice, unfairness, unequal treatment, favoritism, cutthroat behavior, backroom deals, power games, and hypocrisy for what they are. With the seasoning of time, the parent dismisses these things as just part of life in this fallen creation. 

You’re numb and acclimated to all the ways that rebellion against God’s order and Word manifest in and around you. Politicians rule to enrich themselves. Judges lack impartiality and give partisan favors. Corporations deceive the consumer into grabbing market share. Regulators look the other way and get paid off. The taxman leverages the law and gets the guns. The press lies, defames, and slanders you but ignores those who buy ads.

“That’s just the way the world works.” You’re numb, so you accept these things as a business. You’ll feign outrage, whine and complain but do nothing to change it. It doesn’t matter if it’s far away or far above you. Or maybe the inequity and injustice are in your workplace, community, congregation, or home? What can you do? It’s just the way things are. It’s how the game is played. Or spiritually speaking, it’s how sinful rebellion against God’s Word and will is revealed in your life. What can you do?

You are correct that you can’t do anything about it. You are as weak and ineffective at managing your sin as you are managing the sin of others. But you refuse even to believe that. You think that if you can get it together, hold yourself and others accountable, and be more disciplined with yourself and your children, then everything will be all right. Good order, discipline, responsibility, and accountability will fix it. And at least at the surface level, it will. We can, to a reasonable degree, affect outward righteousness. We can act with virtue and for good. 

But underneath, there always remains your corrupt heart that does not fear, love, and trust in God. As a result, your love for your neighbor is disingenuous and hypocritical. You work hard to give the appearance of godliness while secretly operating the same as the rest of sinful humanity. The skills to maintain the illusion you’ve developed from childhood. The most “successful” among us have mastered the deceit. They are clever, manipulative, and shrewd. As Jesus says today, “For the sons of this world are more shrewd in their generation than the sons of light.”

The parable of the unjust steward is so typical a story that it wouldn’t even make it into the papers or deep in a Google search. It’s so dull as to be expected. The story is about a rich man who entrusted his goods to a scoundrel but allowed his steward to improve his position by further wasting his goods, dragging even more into the conspiracy. And in the end, the rich man, the unjust steward, and all the debtors are commended for their scheme. As your parents taught you, “That’s just the way the world works.”

What is offensive is that Jesus uses this parable to describe the kingdom of God! Not all parables are alike. Some teach us to “go and do likewise,” with extraordinary, otherworldly examples of love, mercy, and grace. Think of the Good Samaritan or the tax collector in the temple. Sometimes Jesus finds His illustrations in everyday life and describes people exactly how they are. Think of the man who found a treasure in another field and acted deceptively. Or think of the parable of the widow that the judge answered not because he was just and fair but because she complained too much. 

Today Jesus uses a commonplace example from this sinful world to illumine something that takes place in the kingdom of God. He is not telling us to act precisely in what they do but to grasp the parable’s context and understand it within our relationship with God. Jesus commends the man’s shrewdness—that he had acted wisely. Where was his wisdom? How does this help you understand the kingdom of God?

The man knew he had no way of escape. He had no illusions. He knew he was going to be out on his own. He saw the consequences of his mismanagement and acted quickly and with resolve. He got himself out of a tight spot and improved his position and even that of the rich man. It is unjust and deceitful, but it is how the world works. 

On the other hand, Christians sometimes do the opposite in spiritual matters. You treat faith in Jesus casually. You think you can neglect to attend the Divine Service, read and study God’s Word, and live in faith toward God and love toward one another. You harbor the illusion that you can serve Mammon and neglect God, and everything will still come out all right in the end. And so you procrastinate, putting off until tomorrow what God has set before you to do today. Your salvation is a matter of dead seriousness. You cannot see the consequence of your neglect to attend to Jesus’ Word and sacramental gifts until you are standing before  God the judge and His final reckoning.

Jesus commends to you the wisdom of the unjust steward. Wisdom is looking at the realities, not as you’d like them to be. You’ve neglected to steward the gift of faith that God the Spirit has worked in you. You have forgotten to water and feed the implanted Word. You withhold God’s blessings from those He has given you to love and the congregation He has entrusted to your care. 

The parable is a stern warning to stop being a friend of the world. Stop holding tightly onto riches, the Mammon god. Instead, “make friends for yourselves by unrighteous mammon, that when you fail, they may receive you into an everlasting home.” Your Master commends such waste. You win unjust friends, have a home to dwell in, and have true life and all the treasures of heaven. Jesus flips the script and uses an unjust steward to show how the Gospel of forgiveness of sins is outrageous to those who demand only justice and equity.

The Gospel is wise and right before God but looks like foolishness to the world. Now, in faith, you forgive even those who don’t deserve it. In faith, you care for those who don’t want it. In faith, you love those who are unloving. You live to serve. You know you are a steward of what you have, not its ultimate owner. You risk discomfort, persecution, and ridicule for your ridiculous faith. You dare to trust God in danger. You would rather suffer martyrdom than be unfaithful to God. 

“That’s NOT the way the world works.” No, it’s not; thanks be to God! “For what is the hope of the hypocrite, Though he may gain much, If God takes away his life?” Thank you, Jesus, for not giving us what we deserve, demanding what we owe, or imposing on us the wages of our sin. Thank you, Jesus, for forgiving us, giving us life, and promising in your New Testament eternal life. Thank you for your shrewdness towards us, unjust stewards. 

The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus. Amen.

Rev. Christopher R. Gillespie
St. John Ev. Lutheran Church & School – Sherman Center
Random Lake, Wisconsin